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DACA revoked, what should the U.S. do for young undocumented immigrants?

September 5, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
Almost 800,000 undocumented young people have been protected from deportation under the so-called "Dreamer" program, a pillar of the Obama administration. What are the consequences of President Trump's decision to end DACA? Judy Woodruff gets two views from Alejandro Mayorkas, former director of USCIS, and Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we take a closer look at the president’s decision to rescind DACA, first with Alejandro Mayorkas.

He led the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009 to 2013, where he oversaw the implementation of then President Obama’s DACA program. He later served as deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Alejandro Mayorkas, thank you very much for joining us.

Your reaction to the Trump administration’s move today to rescind the DACA program?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, Former Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: I think it’s a devastating setback, Judy, for the youth in our country, many of whom are dreamers.

And I use the word setback advisably, because I don’t think it’s over. Of course, we all hope that Congress will act. But, more significantly, I have tremendous faith in this community of people and the American public to really push forward their opportunity to realize the American dream.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have been hearing a lot in the last few days about the dreamers.

Who are these young people? Where do they live, their ages? What are they doing?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: They live across the country.

They came here as children. They must have arrived before their 16th birthday. They are graduates of high school, of colleges, of universities. They provide relief as first-responders in Hurricane Harvey. They have served in our military. They’re part of the tapestry of American life.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the government, the federal government now has vital information about each and every one of them, is that right, knows how to find them?


JUDY WOODRUFF: And there was a lot of discussion at the time the program was enacted in 2012 about whether they were taking a risk when they gave this information to the government. Were they?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: They were indeed.

And there were two things that we did to manage that risk. Number one, we communicated publicly the confidentiality that we would ascribe to the information they provided to us, and also we would deliver success to them, we would provide the deferred action as quickly as possible, so that they would have the documentation guaranteeing their lawful presence in the United States as quickly as possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, now we’re told that the Trump administration plans to exercise care in how that information is shared.

But what risks do they face today? What — what — how will their lives change, do you believe, as a result of the rescinding of this program? Of course, we don’t know what Congress is going to do. It could enact — it could move in a number of directions, but what — what do you — what is your sense right now?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: When a recipient of DACA suffers the expiration of the DACA, that individual is no longer lawfully present in the United States.

They are subject to removal, and very importantly to so many of these young people, they will no longer have the opportunity to work lawfully in the United States. And many of them provide for their families and for loved ones and others upon whom they serve.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that’s if the program is done away with altogether.

What we’re hearing from Congress is that there is a sense that there will be some — certainly some tightening of the program, but that, in general, there is a sentiment to let some version of it continue.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: Well, according to the president’s announcement through his attorney general, it will be incumbent upon the legislature to actually pass laws.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: And in the absence of any law being passed, the program will end entirely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I’m going to be talking to our next guest about this, but what’s your expectation on what Congress will do?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: I’m an optimist by nature, and so I hope they do the right thing and pass some legislation. But that has been the hope for quite a number of years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What to you, Alejandro Mayorkas, would be the ideal solution for them?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: The ideal solution would, in fact, be the passage of legislation along the lines of the DREAM Act that has been pending over and over again throughout the years that would give them a more permanent solution to their presence here in the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Would it look very much like what is existing now under President Obama’s memorandum? Would it simply be to codify that?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: That would be a start, although I, quite frankly, would hope that it would be even more expansive than that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what else would you look for?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS: Perhaps a greater population of individuals who would qualify in terms of their age. So, one of the limitations on DACA was one had to be under the age of 31 at the time of application, even though one might have been breakthrough to the United States as a 2-year-old decades ago.

And so really the determinative factor should be, how old was one when one came to the United States, as opposed to how old one is now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you could see it being a fixed — you would like to see it expanded?


JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going to leave it there.

Alejandro Mayorkas, we thank you very much for being with us.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And for a different perspective, Jessica Vaughan joins me now. She’s director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. It’s a research group that favors reducing immigration.

Jessica Vaughan, thank you for being with us again.

Your reaction to the Trump administration move today?

JESSICA VAUGHAN, Center for Immigration Studies: Well, I think it was the responsible thing to do.

What President Trump has done is thrown a lifeline to the people who have DACA now, because this was a program that was facing almost certain sudden death. And so what he’s done is enabled people who have it now to keep it and have some assurance of that. People who have applied for it who are in the pipeline will have their applications adjudicated.

And he’s given Congress time and space to work out a more lasting solution for these individuals. So, this is the start of most likely something that they can — that gives them a little more certainty, if Congress chooses to do it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think should be done? I just asked Mr. Mayorkas this question? What do you think should be done for these people? What — how should they be treated by the law?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Well, I think Americans want to see an immigration system that has limits and doesn’t encourage illegal immigration.

I think the best solution would be to offer an amnesty to most of the people who now have DACA, and also with that amnesty some provisions to help mitigate the fiscal costs and also the chain migration implications for the future.

So, that would mean cuts in certain legal immigration programs to go along with a DACA amnesty. I think it would also be a good idea to pass some improvements to enforcement as well. But the key is the balance an amnesty program with cuts in legal immigration that address the fiscal costs and the chain migration implications, which would increase if Congress were to pass an amnesty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And when you use the term chain migration, you’re talking about a large number of family members coming in together? Is that it?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Well, it’s — immigrants tend to sponsor more than three additional immigrants who are family members of them.

And they come in categories for siblings of naturalized U.S. citizens, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and parents of U.S. citizens. So, those — that’s how immigration has become so expansive under our current system, which is mostly based on family ties, rather than skills.

So, that’s another thing that Congress could take up if it has the opportunity to do so now, and there’s legislation already on the table sponsored by Senators Cotton and Perdue to do that. And that would make sense to put that together with an amnesty for most of the people who now have DACA.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I know you talk to many of the Republican members of Congress. Do you have a sense at this point if there is a consensus for how they may deal with this, what sort of new law they might write to cover these young people?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Well, it’s hard to tell, because, of course, there is a spectrum of opinion among Republicans as well.

You have some Republicans who would rather not see any kind of amnesty or legalization program at all, and you have others that want to have an even bigger amnesty program passed. So it will be interesting to watch the debate.

I think that they’re going to come together on this because they now have a deadline, an impetus to act, and we have seen in the past that that’s usually when Congress does act is when it has to.

So now they have got that challenge, and there are some bills, as I have said, that have been introduced on various aspects of the immigration system that they can take up, but I think they need to keep it fairly simple. We don’t want this to morph into a huge, comprehensive bill, because those bills have always failed in the past, because it’s too hard to get consensus. They need to keep it narrowly focused.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But is there an inherent contradiction here, in that you and others argue what President Obama did was unconstitutional, and yet you still would like the see these young people taken care of?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Well, I think the reasons for taking care of them are political primarily.

I think most people do have sympathy for the fact that these are individuals who didn’t themselves make the choice to come here illegally, and in many cases have lived here much of their lives and grown up here.

And, you know, this is the most sympathetic group of illegal immigrants. And that is why I think people think of them in different terms than a newly arrived illegal immigrant, for example.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Jessica Vaughan, what should the message be tonight to DACA recipients who are watching and listening? How worried should they be about their own future?

JESSICA VAUGHAN: Well, I don’t think that there should be panic, because it’s clear that there is — even if the program ends, the people who have the work permits and the benefit still have that and are not going to become targets of deportation, unless they do something else to bring themselves to the attention of immigration authorities, such as committing a crime or if it’s discovered that they should never have gotten DACA to begin with, because the rules were really fairly lenient.

And the program was implemented without a lot of controls or verification of people’s claims. So there may be the occasional person who had DACA who becomes subject to removal, but most of them now have their current status assured for at least six months, and some of them for as long as two years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jessica Vaughan with the Center for Immigration Studies, thank you.